Sometimes, it’s best to leave well alone. The Hyundai Tucson Sport is a perfect case in point...

If you’re an avid CAR reader, you’ll be well aware of our respect for the Hyundai Tucson. It repeatedly ranks highly in our annual Top 12 Best Buys consumer awards. We’re happy to recommend it to readers who phone in asking for car-buying advice and one of us even suggested it to a sibling as a new-car purchase.

Yes, the Tucson has made quite the impression on the CAR team and likewise the local and international markets. It consistently ranks as one of Hyundai Automotive South Africa’s bestsellers and with good reason; the Tucson drives well, has an impressive range of engines and standard specification, a cabin perfectly suited to family life and – thanks to the brand’s reputation for reliability and after-sales care – retains its value.

Why, then, did the R2,0 CRDi Sport, a recent addition which sits at the top of the line-up, leave us scratching our heads in disbelief? Well, it’s all about the things you can’t see…

The parts you can see make quite the impression, too. Tweaked locally, the Tucson Sport features a bold body kit comprising a deeper front skirt, side sills and a faux rear diffuser housing not two but four exhaust outlets. The rather over-the-top treatment is rounded off by 19-inch alloy wheels in a black finish.

Inside, things are more Tucson than Sport, thankfully. It’s a great interior, offering excellent seating comfort and space utilisation all-round; an easy-to-use infotainment system operating through a seven-inch touchscreen (no longer a locally fitted version but the factory-installed setup that’s much better) with Apple CarPlay plus Android Auto; and generous Elite-model spec that includes a panoramic sunroof, electric adjustment for both front seats, keyless entry and start, leather trim and a suite of active safety features.

Sweeping changes have taken place underneath the bonnet. Whereas the standard Tucson R2,0 CRDi offers a turbodiesel developing 131 kW and 400 N.m, Hyundai’s local arm has turned up the wick to 150 kW and a notable 460 N.m. Unlike the 1,6-litre turbopetrol Sport model (which, incidentally, boasts comparative figures of 150 kW and 300 N.m) and its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the diesel Sport uses a more conventional eight-speed torque-converter unit driving the front wheels.

Now, many carmakers have shown an impressive ability to harness a large torque figure through the front axle without unduly affecting the steering system or grip levels … Hyundai SA is not one of them. Easily overwhelming the substantial 245 mm front tyres at every (and we do mean every) opportunity, the brawny but lag-prone 2,0-litre turbodiesel is an uncouth partner to the otherwise civilised Tucson. Part of the problem is an oversensitive throttle. Coupled with immense lag below 2 000 r/min, it makes smooth progress practically impossible. In what’s perhaps a first for the CAR team since adaptive-drive tech started filtering into cars, we all kept the drivetrain mode in eco to soften the response from the right-hand pedal. Ultimately, this requires constant concentration on the size of inputs to enjoy driving the Tucson Sport and it becomes tiresome after a while.

Unfortunately, there’s no great performance advantage to these hyperactive responses. We recorded a 0-100 km/h time of 9,12 seconds, which is a mere 0,37 seconds quicker than the normal R2,0 CRDi Elite. In-gear, the Sport’s swifter across all our measured 20 km/h increments but, again, not by so much as to warrant the compromises in its drivetrain.

To drive, the Tucson shares all of those appealing qualities inherent in other models, including a cossetting ride (bump absorption’s been affected by the low-profile tyres but not by much), direct yet slightly slow steering and predictable roll angles. Sporty, alas, it isn’t.



TEST SUMMARY

The well-used adage “don’t mess with a winning formula” applies here, too. While the Tucson R2,0 CRDi Elite is a great option in the midsize-SUV segment – even if it’s on the pricey side – the flagship Sport undoes much of the day-to-day appeal with its dubious engine tuning and maddening turbo lag.

If you like the look of the Tucson Sport, the R9 000 cheaper 1,6 TGDI is a more resolved and involving vehicle. Our money, however, would go to any one of several, more keenly priced Tucsons or the vastly more appealing premium rivals (such as the Volvo XC60 D4 AWD Momentum and BMW X3 sDrive18d) at a similar price.